2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Standouts in India's goalless draw with Qatar
The absence of captain Sunil Chhetri and star performer Ashique Kuruniyan notwithstanding, the Indian team delivered a memorable performance at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. The Blue Tigers, as they are famously called, held the more fancied Qatari team to a goalless draw in their second Group E encounter last night.
Having gotten off to a disappointing start in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers after losing to Oman, the Indian side stepped out with some intent in the second game. They has played their heart out even in their first game, but a few defensive lapses in the closing minutes had let to a 1-2 loss to Oman. Coach Igor Stimac's side were looking to make certain of a different outcome this time around.
The game-plan showed early in the match as India looked sharp in their defence, which held strong in the face of an early onslaught from Qatar in the first half. But what really came as a surprise is a change in strategy in the latter half, where the Indian team went out with aggression. They remained solid on defence throughout and created a few opportunities of their own later in the game.
The strategy seemed to have worked as India, while not being able to score, held the Qatari side at bay in the end. Here are a few standout performers from the game.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
ngle save made by the Indian goalkeeper in last night's game, this article would go on forever. That is how good Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was on the day. Filling in the shows of Captain in Chhetri's absence, the 27 year old from Chamkaur Sahib was in control of his goalposts throughout the game.Sandhu had the busiest of first halves with successfully defending as many as a dozen (if not more) set pieces alone. That is not to discount any of his efforts and alertness during the field goal attempts from the likes of Yusuf Abdurisag and Hassan Al-Haydos.
His awareness and anticipation were highlights of the first half as India was pushed on to the back-foot constantly. Had it not been for Sandhu's mercurial attempts, India would have fallen back from the word go. He stood strong in the face of adversity and showcased some true champion-like qualities last night.
Looking to avoid a collapse as was seen in the game against Oman, the Indian team had packed their defensive half with numbers last night. Even the likes of Manvir Singh and Nikhil Poojari, who were meant to fill in Chhetri and Kuruniyan played as fullbacks and helped keep the Qatari side at bay.
The Indian side was so solid that they frustrated the Qatari strikers to strike unguided balls towards the goal while way out of position. The defenders denied the hosts numerous chances to take the lead in the opening half and stayed strong even in the dying minutes avoiding their fate from the first game.
There were moments of individual brilliance as well—Rahul Bheke going one on one with star striker Almoez Ali and coming out on top, Sandesh Jhingan's timely interceptions and Adil Khan's clearance of the ball, using brilliant headers a times to recount a few. All in all, the Indian team was a sight to behold in their defence today.
The second half of the game saw a few spirited runs from the Indian side into their attacking half, some of which even generated a rare shot at goal. The name headlining them was that Udanta Singh, who was clearly one of the fastest players on the outfield on the day.
The young winger made great use of the space on the right flank once he was given smart injections from the likes of Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad. It was the lack of options ahead of him that let him down in the end.
As pointed out earlier, a lot of the Indian forwards were packing the defence, which resulted in a void in the attack which was most felt when the viewers found Singh stranded and a little clueless up in the field with no teammates to manufacture an attack with.
However, a large part of the success for India today involved a packed back-line, so if will also be unfair to blame fellow forwards. It was a good showcase from Singh and the team can always learn from the lapses. A spirited performance from the young man nonetheless.
The Blue Tigers played some impressive football in the past week, and will be looking to make up for the few mistakes and lapses in their time off now. But, with the toughest games out if the way, one can only expect better things for the Indian team from here on ahead.